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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The romance between Rachel and Cates complicates Rachel’s
personal development and frames the main conflict of the play—fundamentalism
versus freedom of thought—in a personal light. The playwrights portray
Reverend Brown, Rachel’s father and the community’s religious leader,
as cruel and heartless. The preacher not only frightens Rachel from
a young age but also publicly damns her soul for supporting Cates.
Meanwhile, Cates, who teaches evolution to his students and has
doubts about religion, stands in bold opposition to Rachel’s father
and his views. These two characters test Rachel’s loyalties throughout
the play. Rachel’s separation from her father and allegiance with
Cates at the end of the trial shows how she resolves this conflict
on a personal level, making a story about the politics of ideas
a love story as well.
The playwrights draw on a traditional dramatic device,
the chorus, to underscore the main themes of Inherit the
Wind. The chorus, which has its origins in ancient Greek
theater, is a group of characters who deliver lines—typically sung
in verse—that comment on the action of the play and predict the
future. In Inherit the Wind, the playwrights consolidate
this traditional chorus into a single chorus character, the Baltimore
Herald reporter E. K. Hornbeck. Hornbeck’s lines appear
in poetic form, and his musings, which originally seem extreme,
eventually prove accurate and insightful. His presence also highlights
the differences between North and South as well as between urban
and rural environments. Hornbeck stands in for the real-life Baltimore
journalist H. L. Mencken, one of the most popular journalists in
American history, whose coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial electrified
Ace your assignments with our guide to Inherit the Wind!